LEDs beat CFLs in Consumer Reports light-bulb tests

Aug. 25, 2012
Consumer Reports has tested 50 lamps and has indicated that replacing incandescent bulbs with CFL or LED lamps can save consumers $60 to $130.
Consumer Reports, an independent product testing lab in Yonkers, NY, has tested 50 compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) and LED lamps for 3000 hours and conducted a survey to determine the popularity of energy-efficient bulbs in the United States. The tests showed that LED lamps from EcoSmart, GE and Philips earned significantly higher scores than most CFLs. The study determined that most Americans have used energy-efficient CFLs or LEDs, with the majority of them – nearly 75% – using CFLs.

The full report and complete Ratings of lightbulbs are available to subscribers at ConsumerReports.org and in the October 2012 issue of Consumer Reports, which will be available on September 4. The goal of the testing is to determine the validity of bulb manufacturer’s claims of brightness, color temperature, lifespan and energy savings. Consumer Reports provides continual updates of the results on its website.

Consumer Reports found good LED lamp choices that cost $25 to $60. For a $25 per lamp, a savings of $130 is expected over its 23-year lifespan. Consumer Reports also identified inexpensive CFLs from EcoSmart, Feit, GE, Sylvania and Utilitech, which range in price from $1.25 to $18.00. Overall, switching to CFLs can save consumers around $60 in energy and replacement bulb costs versus a 60W incandescent bulb.

Light bulb buying guide

Consumer Reports provided several purchasing tips in its buying guide for light bulbs. For instance, consumers should consider the fixture first and select the appropriate bulb size and select a dimmable bulb if dimming is desired. Currently, most CFLs are not dimmable and their lifetime is reduced by frequently turning the bulb on and off. CFLs may also take between 18 seconds and several minutes to brighten fully when turned on. LEDs, on the other hand, achieve full brightness instantly, are not adversely affected by frequent turning on and off, and some of the LED lamps tested dimmed to levels comparable to incandescent bulbs. However, one LED lamp turned an unacceptable cold blue color upon dimming and others failed to emit light in all directions when dimmed.

The guide provides pros and cons to each of the bulb types, discusses performance metrics such as color temperature and CRI, and notes what is included on the FTC Lighting Facts label. The guide suggests that the consumer should use caution when choosing bulbs for a fully enclosed fixture or for an unusual application. Check on the package to see the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding application. The package should also indicate compatibility, for instance, with occupancy sensors and different types of dimmers.

Consumer complaints

The survey determined that the biggest issue consumers have with CFLs and LEDs is the price — 23% of those surveyed said they cost too much. Consumer Reports suggested that consumers shop for rebates at www.dsireusa.org/incentives or www.energystar.gov before shopping at retail stores.

The second common issue with CFLs and LEDs has to do with bulbs that are not bright enough. Consumer Reports suggests the selection of bulbs with greater light output – at least 600 lm for 40W equivalent, 800 lm for 60W equivalent, 1100W for 75W equivalent, and 1600 lm for 100W equivalent.

Consumers have also been disappointed with the color of the light in some cases. It is suggested that users wanting warm light choose CFL or LED lamps with 2700K CCT and those wanting cooler light choose 3000-4000K or 5000K and higher for daylight equivalents. If the light appears “unflattering” it may be that a higher CRI is required. Most of the CFLs and LEDs that Consumer Reports tested were in the low- to mid-80s. The consumer should look for a high CRI value on the package or website.

Finally, if a CFL or LED lamp burns out prematurely, it is recommended that the user returns the bulb to the retailer or contact the manufacturer. A receipt, model number and UPC code may be needed.